UPSC IAS Interview 2017-18

Forest Fires

Smt. Kalpana Palkiwala (*Senior Media & Communications Officer)

Fire is a common feature in the Indian forests every year, causing incalculable damage to the forest wealth and ecosystem. High proportions of these fires are attributed to man-made reasons either deliberately or accidentally. Also the components of fires are very localised and the people who live in the locality know the local conditions best. Therefore, efforts are on to involve communities in fire prevention and control. This necessitates better understanding of the conditions under which community would participate.

India, with a forest cover of 76.4 million hectares, contains a variety of climate zones, including the tropical south, northwestern deserts, Himalayan mountains, and the wet north-east. Forests are widely distributed in the country. India’s forests are endowed with a variety of biomass and biological communities. The forest vegetation in the country varies from tropical evergreen forests in the West Coast and in the North-East to Alpine forests in the Himalayas in the North. In between the two extremes, there are semi-evergreen forests, deciduous forests, sub-tropical broad-leaved hill forests, sub-tropical pine forests and sub-tropical temperate forests.

With increasing population pressure, the forest cover of the country is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Along with various factors, forest fires are a major cause of degradation of Indian forests. According to a Forest Survey of India Report, about 50 percent of forest areas in the country are fire prone (ranging from 50 percent in some states to 90 percent in the others). About 6 percent of the forests are prone to severe fire damage.

Forest Fires in India
In India forest fires are significant and one of the increasing contributory factors in the degradation of existing forest resources. The data on forest fire loss is very sketchy and fragmented.
Majority of forest fires in India are man-made and the main causes of fire are:
· Deforestation activities: conversion of forestland to agriculture, pasture development etc.;
· Traditional slash and burn/shifting agriculture;
· Grazing land management: Setting of fires in forests by villagers for getting fresh blade of grass, fodder etc.;
· Collection and use of NWFPs: e.g. fires set for the purpose of collection of honey, Sal seeds, flowers of Mahua etc.;
· Forest/human habitation interface: e.g. fire set to burn leaves and other biomass from agriculture fields and fire set to scare the wildlife etc.;
· Conflicts over the land right claims and
· Fire caused by negligence.

Forest fires in the country are mostly experienced during summer months from April to June, though the extent and type varies from state to state, type of forest as well as climatic conditions like prolonged spell of dry conditions or delay in arrival of monsoon etc.

Fire Prevention and Control
Over the years, there has been a significant decline in the prioritization of fire management in the forest management objectives. With various social sectors competing for funds, the funding for the fire prevention and control has also gone down or has been diverted to schemes like ‘employment generation’ or even the establishment expenses of the forest department. In fact at present most of the states do not have any regular schemes/funds for prevention and control of forest fires. With meagre human resource at its disposal, the forest departments in most of the states are poorly equipped to prevent or control the spread of forest fires. This situation and the fact that forests are under tremendous pressure, due to increasing population pressure and hence commensurate demand of land, forest products etc necessitates exploration of alternatives to arrest this phenomenon. Attempts to elicit peoples’ participation in fire control offers hope of minimising the damage caused by fires. In this context Joint Forest Management (JFM) assumes an important role in fire prevention and control. JFM has played a significant role in the context of institutional arrangements pertaining to forest management in India. The effective involvement of local communities in evolving sustainable forest management systems is being looked upon as an important approach to address the long-standing problems of deforestation and land degradation in India.

The National Forest Policy (1988) and Joint Forest Management Guidelines (1990) acknowledges and endorses this system of management, which supports the involvement of village communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the regeneration, management and protection of degraded forests. The conducive environment created by these enabling legal and administrative measures is manifested in the fact that as many as twenty two State Governments have issued directions to the respective State Forest Departments for adoption of JFM. At present more than one lakh forest protection committees are protecting about 22 million ha of forest area in the country. These committees operational in various states are assisting the forest department in forest protection (including fire prevention and control) and management, though the extent of participation and contribution to efforts varies.

A very definitive lesson and pre-requisite for community based approach to fire management, which emerges out of the JFM experience in forest protection, is a participatory approach in which people co-operate with forest department in forest protection in return for economic benefits.

Participatory Approach
The community based fire management has to rely extremely on the positive relationship between the people in the rural space and their forest. Mutual confidence and public support has to be created by participatory approaches e.g. incentives, income generation activities, involvement in production enterprises etc. for involvement of communities in fire prevention and control.

In JFM villages, people feel duty bound to put out the fire in the forest because they have a stake in it. Remarks like ‘the forest now belongs to us and we feel obliged to protect it’ are commonly heard, whereas in non-JFM villages people are non-enthusiastic about such voluntary efforts. Their efforts are mainly confined to check spread of forest fires to their agricultural fields.

Creating Awareness
People’s view on the occurrence of forest fires is of vital importance in assessing the impact of community efforts at fire control. It is not surprising that socio-economic and cultural surveys on fire causes often reveal that most important reason for failure of prevention of forest fires is related to the fact that communities do not realize the economic and ecological losses due to forest fires. Therefore, an efficient motivation strategy for fire prevention requires an initial understanding of the cultural, socio-economic and psychological background of community perception of fire losses.

Development of Irrigation in India

by - Sanjay Kumar ( Media & Communications Officer, PIB, New Delhi)

The history of development of irrigation in India can be traced back to prehistoric times. In an agrarian economy like India, irrigation has played a major role. Vedas and ancient Indian scriptures made references to wells, canals, tanks and dams which were beneficial to the community and for their efficient operation and maintenance the responsibility was of the State. Civilization flourished on the banks of rivers and the water was harnessed for sustenance of life. According to the ancient Indian writers, the digging of a tank or well was amongst the greatest of the meritorious acts of a man. Vishnu Purana enjoins merit to a person who effected repairs to wells, gardens and dams. The irrigation technologies during the Indus Valley Civilization were in the form of small and minor works, which were operated by households to irrigate small patches of land and did not require a collective effort. Nearly all the irrigation technologies prevalent then still exist in India with little technological change and are continued to be used by households in rural areas.

The spread of agricultural settlements to less fertile area led to emergence of large irrigation works in the form of reservoirs and small canals. While the construction of small schemes was well within the capability of village communities, large irrigation works emerged only with the growth of states and empires.
In south, perennial irrigation began with construction of the Grand Anicut by the Cholas as early as second century to provide water for irrigation from the Cauvery river. Wherever the topography and terrain permitted, it was an old practice in the region to impound the surface drainage water in tanks or reservoirs by throwing across an earthen dam with a weir, where necessary, to take off excess water, and a sluice at a suitable level to irrigate the land below. Some of the tanks got supplemental supply from stream and river channels. The entire land-scape in the central and southern India is studded with numerous irrigation tanks which have been traced back to many centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. In northern India too there are a number of small canals in the upper valleys of rivers which are very old.

Irrigation during Medieval India
In medieval India, rapid advances took place in the construction of inundation canals. Water was blocked by constructing bunds across steams. This raised the water level and canals were constructed to take the water to the fields. Ghiyasuddin Tughluq (1220-1250) is credited to be the first ruler who encouraged digging canals. However, it is Firuz Tughlug (1351-86) who, inspired from central Asian experience, is considered to be the greatest canal builder before the nineteenth century. As agricultural development was the pillar of the economy, irrigation systems were paid special attention.

Irrigation under British Rule
Irrigation development during British rule began with the renovation, improvement and extension of existing works. The Government also ventured into new projects, like the Upper Ganga Canal, the Upper Bari Doab Canal and Krishna and Godavari Delta Systems, which were all river-diversion works of considerable size. The period from 1836 to 1866 marked the development and completion of these four major works. In 1867, the Government adopted the practice of taking up works, which promised a minimum net return. Thereafter, a number of projects were taken up. These included major canal works like the Sirhind, the Lower Ganga, the Agra and the Mutha Canals, and the Periyar Dam and canals.
The recurrence of drought and famines during the second half of the nineteenth century necessitated the development of irrigation to give protection against the failure of crops and to reduce large scale expenditure on famine relief. Significant protective works constructed during the period were the Betwa Canal, the Nira Left Bank Canal, the Gokak Canal, the Khaswad Tank and the Rushikulya Canal. Between the two types of works, namely productive and protective, the former received greater attention. The gross area irrigated in India under British rule by public works at the close of the nineteenth century was about 7.5 m.ha. Of this, 4.5 m.ha. came from minor works, like tanks, inundation canals etc. The area irrigated by protective works was only a little more than 0.12 m.ha

At The Time Of Independence
The net irrigated area in the Indian sub continent, comprising the British Provinces and Princely States, at the time of Independence was about 28.2 m.ha. The partition of the country, resulted in the apportionment of the irrigated area between the two countries; net irrigated area in India and Pakistan being 19.4 m.ha and 8.8 m.ha respectively. Major canal systems, including the Sutlej and Indus systems went to Pakistan. East Bengal, now Bangladesh, which comprises the fertile Ganga Brahmaputra delta region also went to Pakistan. The irrigation works which remained with India, barring some of the old works in Uttar Pradesh and in the deltas of the South, were mostly of protective nature, meant more to ward off famine than to produce significant yields.

Irrigation Development Now
At the central level the Union Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for development, conservation and management of water as a national resource, i.e., for policy on water resources development and for technical assistance to the states on irrigation, multipurpose projects, ground water exploration and exploitation, command area development, drainage, flood control, water logging, sea erosion problems, dam safety and hydraulic structures for navigation and hydropower. It also oversees the regulation and development of inter-State rivers. These functions are carried out through various Central Organisations. Urban water supply and sewage disposal is handled by the Ministry of Urban Development whereas Rural Water Supply comes under the purview of Department of Drinking Water under the Ministry of Rural Development. Hydro-electric power and thermal power is the responsibility of the Ministry of Power and pollution and environment control is that of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Water being a State subject, the State Governments have primary responsibility for use and control of this resource. The administrative control and responsibility for development of water, rests with the various State Departments and Corporations. Major and medium irrigation is handled by the irrigation/water resources departments. Minor irrigation is looked after partly by water resources departments, minor irrigation corporations, Zilla Parishads/Panchayats and by other departments such as Agriculture. Urban water supply is generally the responsibility of public health departments and panchayats take care of rural water supply. Government tubewells are constructed and managed by the irrigation/water resources department or by tube well corporations set up for the purpose. Hydro-power is the responsibility of the State Electricity Boards.

Forest Survey in India

Forest Survey in India – Historical Perspective

by - Smt. Kalpana Palkhiwala *Assistant Director ( M & C), PIB, New Delhi

The first authentic record of forest survey is traceable to the period of Chandra Gupta Maurya in the third century B.C. During his regime, the forests were classified according to the functions each type of forest was required to perform, such as religious, production, grazing for royal elephants, hunting and public use. However, no detailed surveys were undertaken and there are no records of forest maps, as forests resources were considered inexhaustible. During the Mughal period, forest surveys were confined to the establishment of hunting reserves for the royalty.

During the British period, the first step in forest surveys began in the South in the year 1800. A commission was appointed to enquire into the availability of teak in Malabar hills. The period from 1800 to 1860’s saw appointment of conservators and superintendents of forests for survey of forest resources and their management in the different parts of the country. In 1863, the Conservator of Forests of Madras made a systematic collection of all information related to the working of the forests and produced the first “Manual of Forests Operations”. This could be considered as the first step towards formal codification of the results of forest survey in the shape of written documents later to be known as “working plan”. In due course, these working plans contained, inter alia, detailed forest maps based on the results of forest survey.

In 1865, Brandis was appointed the first Inspector General of Forests working directly under the orders of Government of India. His job was to introduce a system of scientific management and conservation of forests through systematic forest surveys and preparation of working plans based on it.

National Forest Policy
Prior to 1910, forest surveys and mapping were carried out by Survey of India at scales decided by Superintendent of Survey in consultation with the forest departments. After 1910, forest surveys were made ancillary to topographical surveys. The boundaries of legal forest areas are indicated by double dot lines while information about forest cover is shown in the form of green wash in these maps. After Independence in 1947, all princely states were merged into the Indian Union along with their forest areas. A further big addition of forest areas took place as a result of abolition of zamindari and proprietary rights in forest. The National Forest Policy enunciated in 1952 laid emphasis on forest surveys and demarcation along with other aspects of forest development.
However, till 1960 non-availability of classified data of forest-wealth was a major problem in planning of scientific utilization of forest. To overcome this, a complete and broad survey of forest resources was required. Keeping this in view, a project named “Pre-Investment Surveys of Forest Resources” was undertaken by the Government in collaboration with UNDP/FAO in 1965.

The main objectives of this project were:
1. To conduct forests resources survey in selected areas and on the basis of results of forest inventory, issuing of recommendations for bringing in industries to set up their paper-pulp units.
2. Imparting adequate training to officials at all level of the organization and
3. To establish a practical survey unit in such a way that it could be able to conduct forest resources survey in forest areas selected in other parts of India.
4. Use of aerial photograph for thematic mapping.

To start with, three regions were selected viz. (1) Northern Zone including Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, (2) Central Zone – comprising of Madhya Pradesh , Andhra Pradesh, Orissa & Maharashtra and (3) Southern Zone – having some parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The main reasons for selecting these three regions were presence of rich type of forests in these areas, such as conifer forests of Northern region, deciduous mixed hardwood forests of Central region and semi-evergreen and evergreen forests in Southern region of India. Since study area of these zones was very different from each other because of topography and species, occurrence, different designs to carry out the ground surveys and photo-interpretation were formulated for these zones.

The objective of the project was to carry out intensive forest inventories for providing volumetric information at national, state and regional level. Another objective was to use the modern air-borne remote sensing techniques and aerial photographs for preparation of thematic maps on 1:50,000 scale showing forest types and forest cover. Survey of India had started using aerial photography for survey work in 1950’s and its first application in forest survey was made in 1963 in Kullu forests of Himachal Pradesh. Pre-Investment Survey of Forest Resources (PISFR) initiated the use of aerial photographs in forestry for preparation of thematic maps. The details of forestry features interpreted by the technicians of PISFR were transferred from aerial photographs to base maps by cartographers of India using suitable photogrammetric instruments.

After 1968, PISFR started functioning as a Government organization. In 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture, realizing the importance of collection of data of a more general nature on a national level, recommended the creation of a National Forests Resources Survey Organisation. As a result of this recommendation, PISFR was converted into Forest Survey of India (FSI) in June, 1981.

The Forests Survey of India (FSI), an organization of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is engaged in the assessment of the country’s forest cover and forest resources besides providing services of training, research and extension. After a critical review of activities undertaken by FSI, Government redefined the mandate of FSI in 1986 in order to make it more relevant to the rapidly changing needs and aspirations of the country. The headquarters of FSI is located at Dehradun and it has four regional offices located at Shimla (North Zone), Kolkata (East Zone), Nagpur (Central Zone) and Bangalore (South Zone). FSI is headed by a Director General supported by two Joint Directors and eight Deputy Directors at headquarters. Each Zonal Office is headed by a Regional Director and supported by one or two Deputy Directors. The Joint Directors at the headquarters head two wings namely National Forest Data Management Centre (NFDMC) and Training & Forest Inventory (TFI). NFDMC conducts assessment of forest cover, thematic mapping, production of maps, etc. TFI wing is concerned with inventory of tree resources inside and outside the forests, conducting of training courses, extension works, publication of reports, maintenance of library, etc. The total sanctioned strength of the organization is 402, which includes members of the Indian Forest Service and Indian Statistical Service on deputation.

Objectives of Forest Survey of India
Ø To prepare State of Forest Report biennially, providing assessment of latest forest cover in the country and monitoring changes in these.
Ø To conduct inventory in forest and non-forest areas and develop database on forest/tree resources.
Ø To prepare thematic maps on 1:50,000 scale, using aerial photographic.
Ø To function as a nodal agency for collection, compilation, storage and dissemination of spatial database on forest resources.
Ø To conduct training of forestry personnel in application of technologies related to resources survey, remote sensing, GIS, etc.
Ø To strengthen research & development infrastructure in FSI and to conduct research on applied forest survey techniques.
Ø To support State/UT Forest Departments (SFD) in forest resources survey, mapping and inventory.
Ø To undertake forestry related special studies/consultancies and custom made training courses for SFD’s and other organizations on project basis.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests is involved in various activities of preservation, conservation and management of environment and forests of India. A number of prime institutes under the Ministry are helping out in these activities.

Revamping Education in India

by - C. Jayanti, *Sr. Editor in Financial Express

Unlike China, that did not see its billion plus population an economic and social liability and used it to manufacture cheap goods and flood world markets, India unfortunately did. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has said: “For too long, we have viewed the size of our population as an economic and social liability. However, an educated, skilled, healthy empowered people are an asset. The challenge before us is to ensure that each and every citizen of India is an asset.” With the Indian economy growing at around 9 per cent per annum, different sectors of the economy find it difficult to find skilled personnel. It is estimated that the size of the working age population in India, aged 15 to 64 years, is estimated to go up from about 77.5 crore in 2008 to about 95 crore in 2026, i.e. up from 62.9 per cent to 68.4 per cent.

The aim of the government is also to increase the General Enrolment Ratio (GER) by 5 per cent —up from 10 per cent that it is now—by the end of XIth Five Year Plan along with the removal of regional, social and gender disparities. Education including technical education, medical and university; vocational and technical training of labour are on the concurrent list of the Constitution of India. The Central as well as the State Governments need to work towards making India even a global education hub. The micro and small enterprises produce about 8,000 products, contribute 40 per cent of the industrial output and offer the largest employment after agriculture.

The Prime Minister has recently announced a scheme for setting up a skill-development mission. Almost 7 million people have to be employed in the XIth Plan as per target. According to Shri H.P Kumar, Chairman and Managing Director, National Small Industries Corporation Ltd., “We need to give skills to these people, first of all and then create jobs for all 7 million people. We have to train people in skills like electrician, household mason, bakery and beautician among others. In order to provide these skills—develop the employment capability among the people, we, recently launched a new programme that is called incubation of unemployed persons of new small enterprises.”

The incubation programme is a pilot project that NSIC started in which it trains unemployed persons, who do not have high qualifications; the minimum requirement is only high school-from any place, city, villages and small towns. People are segregated into those who want skills for employment and, those who want to set up their business. This incubator was started in Delhi and NSIC has now incubation centres in Howrah and Guwahati, Rajkot, Chennai, other technical centres also—the purpose of which is to run a programme of three to six months’ duration whereby a person is made fully employable.

Says a PHD Chamber expert group, according to a study prepared by Boston Consulting Group, a global workforce deficit of the order of 46 million by 2020 is estimated. India would have an estimated surplus manpower of 47 million. This pool of human resource could be used to the economic advantage of the Indian economy, only if education and skill development is given the due importance in the planning process.

Currently, the number of university-level institutions are 419 and the colleges are: 20, 918, while the number of AICTE approved technical institutions are almost 7,000. The government hopes to rapidly expand higher education institutions with inclusiveness (while implementing 27 per cent reservation), along with removal of regional, social and gender disparities in education with a view to having a fully educated, modern and progressive nation, according to a Ministry of Human Resources Development presentation before the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Demand for Grants (2008-09). Some of the interventions proposed for inclusive education include a rise in UGC support to institutions located in “border, hilly, remote, small towns and educationally backward areas”; more support to institutions with large percentage of student population of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), girls and minorities, apart from OBCs; providing assistance to create hostel facilities as well as coaching to SCs, STs and minorities, coaching for admission to professional courses and competitive examinations for central services. During the XIth Plan, the Government proposes to set up 30 central universities—16 in uncovered states and 14 aiming at world-class standards; eight IITs; 10 National Institutes of Technologies; 20 Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs); three Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERS); seven IIMs and two Schools of Planning and Architecture. Apart from this central assistance will be provided for 1,000 polytechnics: 300 in public private partnership mode and 400 in the private sector. Assistance for setting up of polytechnics in the government sector shall be extended to those states that do not have one at present.

The aim of the Government is also to take of infrastructure shortages and faculty shortages that hamper education at present. The Government also aims to provide $ 10 laptops to students so that they can benefit from the telecommunication revolution. Efforts and research in this direction are on at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Apart from this, the Government wishes to network each department of about 400 university level institutions and 20,000 colleges through broadband connectivity and make available suitable e-learning material.

The National Policy on Education (1986) had set a goal of expenditure on education to be of the order of 6 per cent of GDP. However, the actual expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP has remained about 3 per cent of GDP till 2007-08 (fiscal year). The National Knowledge Commission’s recent report on higher education has recommended that the present support for higher education should be at least 1.5 per cent of GDP, from a total of 6 per cent of GDP for education. The Government has to keep this in mind if it wants to accelerate the level of progress for the country and expand the knowledge base.


World Day to Combat Desertification

By - Smt. Kalpana Palkhiwala (Assistant Director ( M & C), PIB, New Delhi)

The World Day to Combat Desertification is celebrated every year on June 17 all over the world in order to highlight the urgent need to curb the process of desertification and to strengthen the visibility of this serious drylands issue on the international environmental agenda.

17 June constitutes a unique occasion to remind everybody that desertification can be effectively tackled, that solutions are possible, and that key tools to this aim lay in strengthened community participation and co-operation at all levels. The theme of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, “Desertification and Climate Change — One Global Challenge”, reminds us that climate change and desertification interact with each other at a variety of levels. They are two major manifestations of the same problem. And together they seriously threaten our ability to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Another environmental issue of growing urgency today is climate change. This is reflected in the theme for this year’s World Day, which focuses on the important synergy between desertification and climate change. The Day will draw attention to the significant benefits of an integrated approach to tackling these two major environmental challenges.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 the “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought” to promote public awareness and the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

Ever since, country parties to the Convention, organizations of the United Nations System, international and non-governmental organizations and other interested stakeholders have celebrated this particular day with a series of outreach activities worldwide.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation in the drylands and which enjoys a truly universal membership of 193 country parties. It plays a key role in global efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve sustainable development and reach the Millennium Development Goals, in particular with regard to the eradication of extreme poverty. As we approach the halfway stage in the timetable for achieving these goals, the need to fully implement the Convention is becoming increasingly urgent.

The objective of this Convention is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21, with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in affected areas. The long-term integrated strategies will improve productivity, rehabilitation and conservation particularly at the community level.

The principles of this convention are to achieve the objectives of this Convention and to implement its provisions, the member countries i.e. parties implement programmes with the participation of populations and local communities in a spirit of international solidarity and partnership to work towards sustainable development.

This year’s celebration is very important since the adoption of the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the Convention represents a turning point in the UNCCD process and recognizes the convention as an instrument to prevent, control and reverse desertification/land degradation and also to contribute to the reduction of poverty while promoting sustainable development.

The Convention is the only internationally recognized, legally binding instrument that addresses the problem of land degradation in dryland. It enjoys a truly universal membership of 193 parties. Country parties, organizations of the United Nations System, international and non-governmental organizations are invited to organize events to celebrate the World Day to Combat Desertification as an additional opportunity to increase awareness and participation in the implementation process.

The Secretary-General’s message says, “Desertification is not only one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges; it is also a major impediment to meeting basic human needs in drylands. It puts at risk the health and well-being of 1.2 billion people in more than 100 countries. World’s Two thirds of the poor live in drylands, about half in farm households where environmental degradation threatens the agricultural production on which their livelihoods depend.

The causes of desertification are varied and complex. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, adopted 13 years ago, aims to promote concrete action through innovative local, national, sub-regional and regional programmes and supportive international partnerships. However, degradation of the global environment continues at an alarming pace which makes implementation of the Convention ever more urgent.

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing our world to get warmer. We are already experiencing the impact of climate change, with adverse effects felt in many areas. And for people living in dry areas, especially in Africa, changing weather patterns threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.

Global warming will have a dramatic impact on already weakened soils. This trend will, in turn, worsen desertification and increase the prevalence of poverty, forced migration and vulnerability to conflicts in affected areas. Conversely, concerted efforts to combat desertification — by reclaiming degraded land, combating soil loss and restoring vegetation — can help curb greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the resilience of affected countries and build their capacity to adapt to climate change.

On this World Day, let us strive to address desertification and climate change in a synergetic fashion, as part of an integrated approach to achieving sustainable development for all.”

Saarc Media Year

By - Sumathi Vishwanathan (Freelance Writer)

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is a manifestation of the will of the people of this region to pool resources, both manpower and material, to bring tremendous progress in various fields. Collective strength to deal with their common problems in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding has yielded several positive results. The idea of forming a regional grouping was mooted in 1980 by seven countries including India and the first summit took place in Dhaka in December 1985 and adopted the charter formally setting up the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Afghanistan has become its eighth member last year and the other members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan and Maldives.

A South Asian Grouping?

The Heads of State or Government recognised the importance of connectivity which is vital to implement the vision of South Asia community where there will be smooth flow of goods, services, people, technologies, knowledge, capital, culture and ideas in the region. The eight member grouping has common problems like large population, illiteracy, health hazards, unemployment and terrorism. They worked out an effective mechanism, a new weapon to deal with these problems with firm resolve and thus the grouping was born. Connectivity was recognised and communication is an important tool towards it. Tremendous progress in the fields of information and knowledge- based industry has made the world a global village, bringing radical changes in the life of the people of SAARC countries. To bring together the people of this region, priority was given to the dissemination of information about SAARC and its member countries. Several mechanisms like meetings of Information Ministers, Heads of Radio, National Television and News Agencies, Technical Experts and digitalisation of TV and Radio were launched and the SAARC Audio Visual Exchange Committee (SAVE) was formed. These developments took place soon after the first SAARC summit in 1985 and the successive summits had lauded the smooth functioning of the SAVE programme as being a useful medium for promoting a South Asian consciousness among the people in the region. It has already met more than 20 times.

Aim of SAVE

The SAVE Committee aims at increasing awareness about each other, among the people of the region, through disseminating information on the socio-cultural, economic and technical aspects of the member states. This year, 2008, is aptly being observed as “SAARC Media Year” as it has a crucial role to play in getting the people connected. Plan of action adopted in the field of disseminating information to promote information and media for achieving SAARC goals is regularly monitored and necessary changes are introduced for effective implementation of SAARC vision of forming a South Asia Community to get linked to the world as a powerful economic grouping. SAARC goals in media are, to ensure free flow of information, newspapers, periodicals, books and other publications, concessions in postal and telecommunication rates for media transmission and information materials and cooperation in exchange of information between national news agencies of member countries. Annual meetings of the heads of media, special programmes for SAARC designated years, promotion of cultural events and festivals, seminars and conferences are also being pursued.

SAARC Common Position

It works for improving free flow of information among member countries by building adequate communication network and creating legal and institutional systems. It also ensures accessibility of information to everyone besides affordable technology. SAARC encourages public service broadcasting and projection of development activities and other achievements in different fields through media in South Asia. The common position plan aims to develop regional networks and associations among SAARC media organisations. The goals also speak of pursuing plurality of media including promotion of private electronic channels. SAARC will accelerate the steps to strengthen cooperation in institution building and training of media personnel and technological investments will get priority to promote universal access to media. SAARC information ministers in their meeting in Kathmandu in 2005 discussed the establishment of a regulatory framework to balance functioning between the private channels and public service broadcasters in the region.

Media’s Role In Disseminating Information

Developments taking place in a country in various areas are made public by the media only. Their role is significant in creating awareness. In the field of tourism, for instance, the enormous potential in the SAARC region, its old civilisation, rich and unique cultural diversity, exquisite cuisine, extremely diverse and vast array of geography, attractive monuments are projected by the media through different means to the world. Development and proper projection of tourism within South-Asia could bring economic, social and cultural dividends. There is a sense of urgency in strengthening media which alone can inform the people across the country, region and the world the developments taking place around. 2008 is the Year of the Media. SAARC has been giving importance to other areas which contribute towards achieving the goals of SAARC nations. 1989 was the Year of Combating Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking, 1990–SAARC Year of Girl Child, 1991-Year of Shelter, 1992-SAARC Year of Environment, 1993 for the Disabled, 1994 dedicated to the Youth, 1995-Poverty Eradication, 1996 for Literacy, 1997 Participatory Governance, next was for Bio-Diversity, 2002-2003 Contribution of Youth to Environment, followed by HIV/AIDS and South Asia Tourism Year. And then a year of Green South Asia. This year is Media Year. SAARC decades are also observed.1991 to 2000 SAARC decade was of the Girl Child and 2001 to 2010 is the SAARC decade of the Rights of the Child. SAARC is rapidly changing the environment in which the information societies are to be developed to face the new challenges in the knowledge based industries.

Source: PIBureau.

Climate Action Plan

World Environment Day is commemorated each year on 5th June. This year too, it was celebrated with a slogan “Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy”. Recognising that climate change is becoming the defining issue of our era, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is asking countries, companies and communities to focus on greenhouse gas emissions and how to reduce them. The World Environment Day highlights resources and initiatives that promote low carbon economies and life-styles, such as improved energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, forest conservation and eco-friendly consumption.
UNEP is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the ‘Human Environment’. Smt. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India was the only Head of State who was present there as part of the Indian delegation.
Another resolution adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
It is one of the principle vehicle through which the UN stimulated world wide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The agenda is to give a human face to environmental issues; empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues; and advocate partnership, which will ensure all nations and people enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.
The focus of the global 2008 celebrations in New Zealand will be on the solutions and the opportunities for countries, companies and communities to “Kick the habit” and de-carbonize their economies and life-styles. Measures include greater energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, including light bulbs, up to a switch towards cleaner and renewable forms of electricity generation and transport systems.
The focus will also be on the role of forests in countering rises in greenhouse gases. An estimated 20 per cent of emissions contributing to climate change globally are a result of deforestation.
Last year, the main World Environment Day event was held in Norway, with the theme Melting Ice ? a Hot Topic?, and focused on the effects that climate change is having on polar ecosystems and communities, and the ensuing consequences around the world.
UNEP in its ‘Climate Action Plan’, has made several recommendations to reduce carbon emissions. The twelve steps to help Kick the Habit are:-

Make a Commitment
Several countries have indicated in recent months that they will go carbon neutral, led by Costa Rica, New Zealand and Norway. The United Nations system itself, led by Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, and guided by the UNEP-led Environment Management Group, is moving towards carbon neutrality. UNEP is also facilitating carbon neutrality in all sectors and all regions through its climate neutral network.

Assess Where You Stand
It is likely that carbon will eventually be judged as an atmospheric pollutant and regulated accordingly, with consequent costs—and opportunities—for all sectors of society. Knowing where and how you generate greenhouse gases is the first step to reducing them. For individuals and small businesses, online calculators and internal assessments can help start the process. Larger organisations may need specialised advice and tools, such as the new ISO 14064 standard for greenhouse gas accounting and verification, or the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, provided by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which is an accounting tool for government and business managers to understand, quantify, manage and report greenhouse gas emissions.

Decide And Plan Where You Want To Go
Based on your assessment of climate-related risks and opportunities, a strategy and action plan can be developed. Targets help focus efforts and also provide a benchmark for measuring success. Most homes or businesses can reduce energy use by 10 per cent-which almost always results in a 10 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A plan to reduce carbon emissions will first focus on the type of energy and the way it is used; for example electricity for buildings and fuel for transport. An effective tool is an energy audit.

De-Carbon Your Life
There is a broader way to think about carbon and climate. Everything an individual, organization, business or government does or uses embodies some form of carbon, either in products themselves or in the energy and materials it takes to make them. Integrating climate friendly criteria into decision making can trigger a ripple effect. If consumers, manufacturers and lawmakers all think ‘low carbon’ and ‘climate friendly’ savings in carbon emissions will multiply.

Get Energy Efficient
Improving the efficiency of your buildings, computers, cars and products is the fastest and most lucrative way to save money, energy and carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is about increasing productivity but doing more with less. More efficient buildings, cars and products will have a direct and lasting contribution to limiting carbon emissions. Very simple measures can lead to immediate savings. Just turning off unused lights, motors, computers and heating can substantially reduce wasted energy-and money.

Switch To Low Carbon Energy
If possible, switch to energy sources that emit less carbon and can reduce costs and emissions. Generally, coal produces twice the emissions of gas, six times the amount of solar, 40 times the amount of wind and 200 times the amount from hydro. In many parts of the world customers can choose to have a percentage of their electricity supplied from a renewable energy source, such as a wind farm or landfill gas project. These ‘green choice’ programmes are maturing and proving to be a powerful stimulus for growth in renewable energy supply.
At the small business or household level, tax breaks and incentives can make solar photovoltaic systems and other renewable energy technologies cost effective. Rooftop solar electric panels can provide energy over time, reduce electricity costs and provide a buffer against price fluctuations. UNEP is helping promote such schemes in southern India and North Africa.
The transport sector is responsible for 25 per cent of total energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning petrol and diesel. Various options exist for kicking the carbon habit. Hybrid engines that combine electricity and conventional petrol or diesel engines can offer substantial fuel savings while reducing emissions.

Invest In Offsets And Cleaner Alternatives
There is a limit to how much efficiency you can squeeze from your lifestyle or your organisation’s operations, or how much renewable energy you can employ. The choice for those who wish to compensate for their remaining emissions is to fund an activity by another party that reduces emissions. This is commonly called a ‘carbon offset’ or ‘carbon credit’. The term carbon neutral includes the idea of neutralising emissions through supporting carbon savings elsewhere.

Get Efficient
Looking at life or business through a carbon neutral lens can help by increasing the efficiency of resource use, avoiding and reducing waste and ultimately improving overall performance and reputation. Integrate the 3R approach—reduce, reuse and recycle—into thinking.

Offer-or Buy-Low Carbon Products And Services
The market for climate friendly products and services is growing rapidly, from energy efficient products to new renewable energy systems. Ecodesign is an important strategy for small and medium sized companies both in developed and developing countries to improve the environmental performance of their products, reduce waste and improve their competitive position on the market.

Buy Green, Sell Green
The market for green products and services is also expanding. In many countries consumer surveys report that growing numbers of consumers are willing to buy green products if given the choice. For businesses, innovative product design and presentation combined with responsible marketing and communications can help ensure that this consumer interest translates into purchasing.

Team Up
Many private sector companies are increasingly working with non-governmental organisations, cities or governments to identify and implement best practice solutions to reduce emissions.

The increasing importance of climate change means that companies and organisations will need to communicate. Transparency is critical. Reducing emissions, particularly by improving efficiency is a win-win situation that can also enhance a company’s reputation. The Ministry of Environment and Forests will celebrate the day by launching the Environment Ambassador Campaign and presentation of 3 Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar and 1 Young Environmentalist award and also with the appeal to ‘Pick Right! Making the right choices’ – to pay attention to climate change, achieve growth in a sustainable way to make positive contribution to the future of planet Earth.

Urban Flooding : Management Challenges

By - M Shashidhar Reddy
*Member, National Disaster Management Authority/Convener of NDMA Steering Committee on Urban Flooding./Member, National Disaster Management Authority.

Urban flood disasters are now affecting a large number of people living in urban areas in India. Major cities in India have witnessed loss of life and property, disruptions to transport and power and incidences of epidemics during the monsoons, most notable amongst them being Mumbai in 2005, Surat in 2006 and Kolkata in 2007. The annual disasters from urban flooding are now much greater than the annual economic losses due to other disasters.

In 2001, there were 285 million people residing in 35 metro cities (having a population of 1 million plus). This is estimated to exceed 600 million by 2021 in over a 100 metro cities. There is a marked impact of globalization on city growth and most growth is increasingly concentrated in and around dynamic urban areas, large and small. Rapid urban development and the pressures of population have resulted in constructions in flood-prone areas and the urban population is now more vulnerable to flooding.
A special feature in India is that, heavy rainfall occurs mainly during the monsoon, hence unique solutions and approaches are needed for Indian cities. In addition, the urban heat island effect has resulted in an increase in rainfall over urban areas. Global climate change is resulting in changed weather patterns and increased intensities of rainfall in lesser number of rainfall events during the monsoons. Thus, many of our cities located on the coast, on river banks, on downstream of major dams and even otherwise need to have special provision for mitigation of urban flood disasters. To survive in a global economy, our urban centers should quickly recover from flooding incidences through adequate flood disaster mitigation measures.

Urban Flooding is Different
Urban flooding is significantly different from rural flooding, as urbanization increases flood risk by up to 3 times, peak flows result in flooding very quickly due to faster flow times ( in a matter of minutes), large number of people are affected in dense population clusters and severe economic and infrastructure loss to industry and commerce.
Urban flooding can be reduced with measures like maintaining existing drainage channels, providing alternative drainage paths (may be underground), on site storage of rainwater, control of solid waste entering the drainage systems, providing porous pavements to allow infiltration of rainwater, reserve low-lying areas for playgrounds and parks, using state-of-the-art technologies to address current problems, etc.

Running Urban Centres 24x7
To keep the urban centers running 24x7, flood damages need to be minimized through proper planning and enforcement. Four main objectives have to be achieved, which include a) warming the people of an impending flooding, b) protecting the existing infrastructure, c) maintaining the transport and communication through the worst possible event- with special emphasis on air transport and communications , and d) minimizing urban flooding in future cities/suburbs through improved master drainage plans.

National Guidelines from NDMA
Recognizing the fact that urban flooding is now a major disaster which affects a large number of people, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is now dealing with this as a separate subject, de-linking it from rural flooding. NDMA has initiated the process for evolving National Guidelines for Management of Urban Flooding with the involvement of all stakeholders. NDMA will review present status of Urban Flood management, identify gaps and challenges.
Guidelines will focus on S&T Tools for more effective early warning and monitoring, with state- of- the- art equipment, impact assessment framework, climate change impact. It will also look at optimal design of storm water drainage (SWD) systems, adaptation strategies, management of water bodies, regulation and enforcement, guidelines for new developments, awareness and preparedness, medical preparedness and epidemic control, inert-agency coordinated rescue, response and relief and improved community preparedness and response, besides several other things.
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